CHARACTER THE SPRI G OF LIFE BY JOH WATSO , D.D.

" A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things ; and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things." — St. Matthew xii. 35.

THIS is the compact statement of a truth upon which Jesus laid the last emphasis — that \ everything depends on character. The word has two meanings. And according to its original sense character is the mark made upon a stone by engraving. It is therefore the stamp of the soul and the expression of a man's being. It is equivalent to nature, it is the very man himself. Character has also come to acquire a secondary meaning which has much less value in the moral currency. It is not now what the man is, and will continue to be, but what he says he is or appears to be. It is the impression he has produced in certain circumstances, the effect of certain public actions, the attitude which he assumes to the world. It is the outer show of the man : it is his reputation.

158 CHARACTER THE SPRI G OF LIFE One profound difference between our Master and the Pharisees turned upon the reading of this word. With the Pharisees, character was reputation, and their whole strength was given to performing a religious play. With Jesus character was nature, and He was ever insisting that a

man must be judged not by appearance but by the heart ; not by what he says, or even by what he does, but by what he is. They made religion a thing of the outer life ; He declared it a thing of the inner life and He was hotly indignant with their blatant unreality. Jesus despaired of the Pharisees while He hoped great things from the sinners, for this simple reason — that the sinners at least were honest, while the Pharisees were thoroughly dishonest. When they gave alms it was to the sound of trumpets, not because they loved the poor ; and when they prayed it was in a public place, not because they loved God. They were irreligious from Christ's standpoint, not because they were doing irreligious things, but because they had irreligious hearts. They were hypocrites, not because they were living a double life, but because they were playing a calculated part. They were moral actors, and therefore

CHARACTER THE SPRI G OF LIFE 159 the white flame of Jesus' anger was ever glancing round the Pharisees. Common speech betrays our implicit conviction, and every day we ourselves acknowledge the supremacy of character. One man may use the most persuasive words, but no one gives heed because they are not the outcome of a true soul ; another may speak with rough simplicity, and his neighbours respond because every word bears the stamp of a brave heart. When a good man loses his temper or is easily offended or grasps at some advantage, or fails in courage, we say that he was " not himself." This act was foreign to the man, a caricature of his spiritual likeness. When a good man carries himself right knightly we say that was

" like him," as if we had a portrait before our eyes, and this act was its replica. We charge our friend in time of temptation to be loyal to his highest self, to be himself, and to play the man. We speak after this fashion, not in the pulpit only, but on the street ; so we bear unconscious witness that Jesus was right, and that the man's heart is himself. If character be the spring of life then two things follow, and the first is that every man's work is

i6o CHARACTER THE SPRI G OF LIFE /the expression of himself. Just as the Almighty / IS ever creating under a divine necessity, because He must express Himself, and just as His character can be discovered by those who have eyes to see in the parable of creation, so every man works under the same compulsion, and reveals himself by the fruit of his hands. Every man is doing something, whether it be good or evil. You cannot stamp out a spring, and from his secret self a man^s life is ever flowing, and carrying with it the colour of its origin. Why does a poet write his verse, or an artist paint his picture, or a minister preach his sermon, or an artisan do his carving ? Because the idea was in him, and he must be delivered of it. His self is in the work, and it is the unconscious exposure of his innermost being. The largest and most convincing illustration of this principle is architecture, where the theology of the builders is written in masterful letters before the eyes of the world. A mosque with its wide space, high roof, bare walls, freedom from all imagery, declares by its purity and dignity

that God is a spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. A Gothic cathedral with its

CHARACTER THE SPRI G OF LIFE i6i long aisles, shadowy recesses, secluded chancel, and high altar, witnesses to the mystery of the Holy Incarnation, the awfulness of Christ's sacrifice, the solemnity of the sacraments and the authority of the priesthood. Upon a typical onconformist church, without altar or prayer desk, with its platform for the speaker and its audience chamber for the people might be in- ! scribed, " It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Each building is a creed wrought in stone, and proclaims to the whole world the deepest conviction of the builder. " I believe in the unity of God," says the Mohammedan ; " I believe in the sacrifice of the mass," says the Catholic ; " I believe in the Gospel," says the Puritan. Within the history of the same faith one can see how the architecture corresponds with the religion, either in its days of austere purity or of luxurious decay. If you wish to study Christianity at its best, visit one of the old Gothic churches, and there you find not above the altar only, but in every line of the building the sign of the Cross. The builders were simple, fearless, pure, devout. If you wish to study Christianity I.F. II

i62 CHARACTER THE SPRI G OF LIFE

at its worst visit a church of the Renaissance with its veneer of marble, its glaring style, and its meretricious ornaments. It does not matter though it were plastered with crosses, from every stone it breathes the spirit of the world, and we know that the men who raised and decorated it were soft, proud, unbelieving, pagan. Even a man's home, so far as its form and furnishing depend upon himself, is a confession of character, so that you can imagine your host before he appears. As a man also is plainly declared by the friends with whom he associates, and the habits he has cultivated, and the expression of his face, and the accent of his speaking and the very manner of his walking. Character, however, chiefly colours the actual work into which one puts his strength and which he does with intention. An experienced college tutor used to say that he could estimate a pupil by his handwriting, and within limits his judgment was true. Legibility and beauty depend no doubt upon technical skill ; but there is a moral element which is very suggestive, as if the life from the secret fountain flowed through the fingers. Certain hands with their crisp and decisive strokes

CHARACTER THE SPRI G OF LIFE 163 testify to a strong character ; certain with their slovenly and slithering letters reveal slackness and inefficiency. A man may fairly be classified by the bargain he makes, by the way he conducts a case, by his treatment of a patient, by the finish of a table. There are houses which will justify the builder and there are houses which will damn the builder in this world and possibly in the world to come. According as a man is true, so is his

work ; in proportion as he is false, so is his work. One of the secrets of great art is sincerity, but if the soul be crooked the work will be a makeshift. It mattered not that the Pharisees whitewashed their lives, the rottenness was within, and the foulness oozed out and tainted the atmosphere. Ruskin discovered in a Venetian church the figure of a doge which is a perfect illustration of cheap and hypocritical work. One side of the forehead is wrinkled elaborately, the other left smooth, according as the public can see. One side only of the doge's cap is chased, one cheek only is finished. Finally the ermine robe which is imitated to its utmost lock of hair and of ground hair on one side is only blocked out on the other." " Who," says Ruskin, " with a heart in his breast

i64 CHARACTER THE SPRI G OF LIFE could have stayed his hand as he drew the dim lines of the old man's countenance, as he reached the bend of the gray forehead, and measured out the last veins of it at so many sequins." " ow," concludes Ruskin, " comes the very gist and point of the whole matter. This lying monument is at least veracious if in nothing else in its testimony to the character of the sculptor. He was banished from Venice for forgery in 1487." False heart, false work. From that hypocrite of art it is a relief to turn to a sincere man of letters, and everyone anxious to convince himself of the organic connexion between character and work should read both Lockhart's Life of Sir Walter Scott, and the " Waverley ovels." o fiction has ever so moved its readers to humility, purity, reverence and courage. Scott's novels are a moral inspiration and a substantial asset of religion. They have taught no man to doubt, nor made any woman

blush. They have raised and not degraded the tone of society, and they were the living fruit of Scott's own soul, and the incarnation of his own ideals. Throughout the books breathe his own chivalrous temper who was one of the most gallant men, and most wholesome Christians in the history of Scotland or any land. True heart, true work.

CHARACTER THE SPRI G OF LIFE 165 Conduct as much as work springs from the heart, and by the heart must be judged. When we say right is who right does, and when we mean that we are bound in the first issue to estimate men by their visible deeds we are laying down a sound principle, but we must apply it with spiritual insight. Both God and man try conduct by subtler tests than the outward appearance, and two actions of the same kind may have a different moral complexion. Is it the same thing that a man live purely because he is afraid of the unspeakable consequences of vice, as that he keeps his body unstained, because it has been redeemed by the blood of Christ ? Is calculating prudence on the same level as devout consecration, and do they prove an equal quality in the soul ? Is it the same thing that a man should relieve the misery of his fellows, because they are part of the body of Jesus Christ, as that he should give a public subscription that his name may be passed from lip to lip ? Are those two men of the same temper and breed ? Which gift do we appreciate more ourselves, one given from abundance and from interested motives, or the poorer present of a child which has cost it long thought and self denial ? We ourselves

i66 CHARACTER THE SPRI G OF LIFE pass behind acts to motives ; we also trace the life up to its birthplace. Men are loved who have been able to give but little because they gave it brotherly, fragrant with love ; men are hated who have given largely because they gave ostentatiously and inhumanly with cold and careless hand. Before us also stands daily the two ideals of life, and we must choose between the Pharisees and Jesus. If this life be a stage and we be the players, with the world for spectators, then let us study our part carefully, so that by our pose and speech we may every moment please our fellow men, and earn their applause. Verily we shall have our reward. If this life be the school for the soul, and we be the sons of God, working and living continually in His presence, then let us not vex ourselves about the sound of our words upon our neighbours' ears, or the effect of our actions upon their judgment. Rather let us pray and strive that our inner self be cleansed from guile, possessed by love and consecrated to the Will of God. Whether men approve or condemn us it will be a light matter, for our judgment is with our Father which seeth in secret but rewardeth openly.

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